An opportunity for the community to learn puppet-making as well as craft a star character for the upcoming puppet performance of ‘How Chipmunk Got His Stripes’
It began on a Zoom Talk Back after Chandler’s presentation of No Strings Marionette Company’s filmed production of “Treasure Hunt” back in November. One of the children on the Zoom call suggested that they would like to make puppets such as the ones in the show. Karen Dillon, executive director of Chandler, and Barbara Paulson and Dan Baginski of No Strings Marionette Company, begin to mull this over. How to create a Covid-safe collaboration with the local community? And what story should the puppet performance tell?
After a few discussions and a consultation with Courtney Bowen, children’s librarian at Kimball Library, they decided that they wished to tell an indigenous story. All felt that this year it was especially important to create a space for indigenous voices and Native perspectives. They all chose a few favorite indigenous tales, most of which ended up being penned by the renowned Abenaki author, Joseph Bruchac.
When Dillon reached out to Bruchac, she was able to offer him a modest royalty for the use of one of his book’s storylines because of a grant from the Vermont Community Fund given to support Chandler’s work with children and families. He agreed to this use, adding, “ I have always enjoyed working with regional arts Centers and I am a big fan of puppet theater.”
The Bruchac family also founded two nature preserves. One is a public facing venture called the Nadakinna Education Center in Greenfield Center, New York. Nadakinna offers nature and native education in an outdoor, wilderness setting and keeps the Bruchacs very busy.
“My wife and I are wildlife rehabilitators and we spend quite a bit of time each day taking care of feeding stations in the woods all around our cabin, which is in the midst of one of our two family nature preserves. Just today I counted 40 turkeys, 30 deer, and innumerable other wild friends availing themselves of our hospitality,” Bruchac said.
The story (which Chandler and No Strings received permission to adapt) is titled, “How Chipmunk Got His Stripes,” and it seems to come from the Bruchac’s deep relationship with nature, grounded in our present moment. Dillon, Paulson and Baginski were excited by the story structure, which is a tale of anticipation about the future. It features two primary characters, but there is an entire social network in the story of many other forest animals who bear witness to their rivalry. It was this aspect of the story that was most important for this project. The original impulse was to encourage community participation by asking the audience to create all these unique animal puppets, which would then be used in the final performance to give voice to the community’s ideas about what the future holds.
Once the rights were agreed upon the schedule and format was set.
A call for puppet-making collaborators is happening now. Those who want to make a puppet for the show can fill out a registration form on the Chandler website at chandler-arts.org. Participants will get to choose an animal character to create and will be shipped a puppet-making kit to use. The puppeteers will then provide a series of online video workshops and a few Zoom Q&A sessions to craft their puppets. Once the puppets are finished, they will be shipped back to Chandler where there will be a short exhibition for all to see the completed characters. Then the puppeteers will do their magic and transform these sedentary sets of strings into an active cast for the show. The final performance will be filmed and there is hope that the final product will be able to be screened publicly later in the summer (depending on Covid guidelines). It can also be streamed.
Getting training and the opportunity to work with professional puppeteers may be an unexpected upside to the pandemic. Puppeteers Dan Baginski and Barbara Paulson are usually found in the studio creating every aspect of their puppet shows. Marionettes, props, scenery and scripts would normally head out on the road and gleefully interact with live audiences.
Limited to virtual performances during Covid, the pair has both reason and opportunity to explore alternative meaningful ways to connect with people through a shared artistic experience. With the “Chipmunk” project the potential audience shares in the excitement of the creative journey. The pair will help participants make professional quality puppets, props and scenery for the project, and in return the project will be infused with a celebration of each participant’s own creative style and voice.
Paulson mused, “Each puppet’s individual flair will reflect how the individual qualities we all possess combine to make a diverse social fabric. We will unite to celebrate and value each others’ unique qualities as they enrich the story in ways we never could have dreamed of. We couldn’t be part of this without you.” Baginski added, “We will share tips learned from a lifetime of trial and error making our own puppets!”
These puppeteers are excited about sharing their skills and enthusiasm with this growing puppet community. Check out No Strings on their Facebook page:
Looking forward to audience involvement. Families can sign up to collaborate and there are dozens of characters available.
Info and signup is available at Chandler-arts.org.